Fire at an Oregon Homeless Camp Injures One, Damages Bridge Ramp

Portland Fire & Rescue was called out to a “smoke in the area” and “potential grass/brush fire” at 3:28 PM yesterday at the base of the east bound entrance of the Steel Bridge off NW Everett. Crews arrived to find smoke pushing out of cracks of a non-load bearing cinderblock wall under the bridge. Crews used sledgehammer like tools to open the wall and create 3 large openings that exposed the area under the bridge and found heavy fire activity. The fire load in this enclosed space was made up of objects brought under the roadway by individuals using this protected area as a permanent living space.

Crews extinguished the fire and began a search of the area under the roadway being used as living space and found a fire victim. The individual was extracted through one of the openings created by the crews and transported by ambulance to the hospital in serious condition with burns and smoke inhalation.  

During the search crews found areas modified with tunneled out zones to create individual type living spaces by digging tunnels and terracing areas to create flat spaces where sloped soil once existed. The call was changed to a “confined space event” and the technical rescue team already on site brought specialized equipment to employ during the extended slow and methodical search of the enclosed area underneath the roadway. This search was dangerous to fire crews due to the collapse potential of the bridge along with any damage to the bridge due to fire impingement. The area was extensively searched using a few entrances to be certain the entire enclosed area was searched with no one was found by the fire crews.

Embers from the fire extended to a free-standing individual tent in the surrounding area during fire suppression activities in a nearby area during the incident. This tent was extinguished as well by crews on scene without any injuries to occupants.

There were no reported injuries reported to fire crews that were working at the incident. Extensive decontamination of the fire crews occurred on scene due to the nature of the environment and materials encountered during the search and further cleaning of their protective gear will continue upon returning to the station.

The scene was turned over to Oregon Department of Transportation at 6:45 PM and the bridge is now being evaluated by their engineers for any structural damage. The bridge onramp will remain closed for an extended period until a thorough examination is completed to be certain it is safe for vehicular traffic. Portland Bureau of Transportation is also on scene evaluating roadways that are under their jurisdiction.

Source: PPPB

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